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Document Type

Feature Article

Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2007

Publication Title

Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD 3(1)


Peer Editor: Sarah Frazier; Faculty Mentor: Henry L. Roediger III

What is it that our hands are doing while we speak? Gesture naturally accompanies spoken explanations for many people, but does it affect cognition or is it simply there for show? A previous experiment (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006b) demonstrated that when studying for a future test, writing out studied material is more beneficial than simply re-reading it. We hypothesized that gesturing would serve the same beneficial function as writing. In our experiment we added two conditions to the previous Roediger paradigm. We investigated how explaining information on Day 1 would compare to re-reading and written recall. We divided explana- tion into two conditions: explanation with and explanation without gesture. During the gesture condition, subjects were allowed to move their hands freely. During explanation without gesture, subjects were asked to keep their hands on the table while they explained the pas- sage. Subjects returned 48 hours later and took a written recall test for each of the four studied passages. We found that written recall and explaining the passage with gesture on Day 1 produced equivalent memory when tested on Day 2. Furthermore, both of these conditions were significantly better than the re-reading condition. Explanation without gesture produced slightly better memory than re-reading, but was significantly worse when compared to explanation with gesture and almost significantly worse when compared to written recall. It appears that gesture aids the brain when encoding the information, leading to better memory at retrieval.

From the Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD, Volume 3, Issue 1, Fall 2007. Published by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Henry Biggs, Director of Undergraduate Research and Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Joy Zalis Kiefer, Undergraduate Research Coordinator, Co-editor, and Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Kristin Sobotka, Editor.


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